Friday, July 30, 2010

Who profits when a soldier is killed over there?

THERE OUGHT TO BE a stronger word than "outrage". Besides the Tea Partyers have largely appropriated the word, leaving little room for the other side to spill their emotions all over the lot. So whatever the synonym for hyper-outrage is, shouldn't all of us turn to it for a report in Bloomberg Markets Magazine's September issue about how big insurance companies are fattening up on the life insurance payoffs for American soldiers killed in the never-ending Mideast wars?

The system was tearfully described to the magazine by Cindy Lohman, whose son was killed in Afghanistan:

She got a big envelope from Prudential Financial, Inc., which contained a letter advising her that it was holding a $400,000 life insurance payout for safekeeping as one of the agents of the Department of Veterans Affairs. The envelop also contained an item that, Lohman said, looked like a checkbook. Prudential said the money would be safe and would be placed in an interesting-bearing Alliance Account . Months later, when she tried to pay for a new bed with a Prudential "check". It was rejected. Why? The insurance money had been placed in a corporate account that was paying Prudential 4.8 pct. Mrs. Lohman's interest rate was one pct.! "I'm shocked," Mrs. Lohman told the magazine. "It's a betrayal. It saddens me as an American that a company would stoop so low as to make a profit on the death of a soldier. Is there anything lower?"

Many insurance life insurance companies are engaged in such practices.

Said the magazine:
In the past decade, these so-called retained-asset accounts have become standard operating procedure in an industry that touches virtually ever American: There are more than 300 million active life insurance polices in the U.S., and the industry holds $4.6 trillion in assets, according to the American Council of Life Insurers.
Meantime, while Wall Street is boasting of record profits, none other than publishing and real estate billionaire Mort Zuckerman was complaining loudly to Chris Matthews that the Obama Administration was forever "demonizing business." He became flustered when Matthews reminded of the profitable state of Wall Street these days.

So I would have to say to Mort, if all of this sounds quite"demonizing" to you, so be it. But Obama's demons obviously haven't depressed your fortune: According to Forbes, you were the 382nd richest person in America in 2006. In 2010, it ranked you 147th. With more than two years of Obama's demons tormenting the insurance companies and you, there's just no telling whether your ranking will be in the single digits.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Schlafly: Why unmarried women voted for Obama

PHYLLIS SCHLAFLY, the right-wing Everything since the heyday of Alley Oop, has been leading her pro-family Eagle Forum for nearly 40 years. I recall the fuss she stirred during the Goldwater campaign against Lyndon Johnson in 1964 with her book "A Choice not an Echo" - a title that should be self-explanatory even though its conclusions were soundly thrashed in the election. She also spent much of her time fighting the Equal Rights Amendment, insisting that a women's place is in her home (unless you are a conservative female activist). Now, she's done the Republican Party no favor by insisting that the only reason unmarried women voted in great numbers for President Obama is that they needed somebody to look after them. Here's what the national syndicated columnist said, ladies, at a political function:
"Unmarried women, 70 pct. of the unmarried women, voted for Obama, and this is because when you kick your husband out, you've got to have Big Brother government to be your provider."

I'm not sure what this has to say about all of the married women who voted for him, too, and I am skittish about asking . Whatever, no contest. Schlafly gets the Grumpy Abe Linguistic Lunacy (GALL) award.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The R's and D's of Arizona immigration law

POLITiCAL AFFILIATION continues to drive a broadening wedge in America. Exhibit No. 1 is from a poll by the Arizona Republic on the eve of the activation of the controversial new immigration law in that state. The figures: 88 pct. of registered Republican voters support the law; Democrats, 30 pct. According to the Phoenix newspaper,
"Nearly half of those polled believe the law has made Latinos more likely to be discriminated against andthat the debate has exposed a deeper sense of racism here. A smaller number 36 pct., reject those ideas."...[The poll] suggested that the voters' views "depend heavily on political affiliation, age, income, gender and ethnicity."
In other news from the Grand Canyon State, Gov.Jan Brewer has triggered the closing of half of the state's parks in the wake of Arizona's critical economic troubles.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Michael, it's time to row your boat to shore!

JOHN KASICH as been running around the state challenging Gov. Strickland to pledge that he would never-never-never-never raise taxes. It seems to me that Strickland's handlers need to inject some imagination into his non-response to Kasich's dare. (1) He could tell Kasich that he will come forward with a pledge, ridiculous though it may be, when the former Wall Street Republican self-defined gofer releases his 2009 income tax. (Did he get an even bigger bonus from bankrupt Lehman Brothers than in 2008? Don't know.) (2) He could respond cryptically by saying he would do what previous Ohio Republican governors have done in times of need. (3) He could simply say, "Read my lips" and be done with the pestering. Taxes? What, in the meantime would you call increases in state university tuition and the many fees being tacked on to high school students for activities and materials that once came with the territory? If that's all Kasich has got, he might have to be careful about what he is wishing for.

THERE ARE MOMENTS when I think Michael Steele is running the Republican National Committee like Harry Houdini. There are moments when I think he is as crazy as Glenn Beck without the tears. And then there are moments when I think he is a sly old street fox who is out to humiliate all of those rich white guys in the Republican Party. I'm not sure which of those were in play when he reportedly invited the right-wing hit man Andrew Breitbart to co-chair a reception for a RNC fund-raiser on August 12 in Beverly Hills. (Breitbart has just added another victim to his bloody toll - Shirley Sherrod - who was fired from the Ag Dept. by a grossly inattentive and shamefully soft-spined bureaucrat in the Obama Administration.")

It's torpedoes like Breitbart who are blowing hole in the Republican brand. On the other hand, it's possible he is, in fact, now the Republican brand.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Sherrod Brown: It was even worse than you figured

THE PLAIN DEALER has set up its own version of a truth squad by subjecting the words of politicians to what will henceforth be known as a Truth-O-Meter. That's a rather ambitious undertaking inasmuch as pols aren't necessarily the silent types and in today's heated political culture are likely to say things today that they will deny tomorrow.

The first subject to undergo testing in absentia was Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, who told Rachel Maddow that 22 million jobs were created under President Clinton, but only 3 million during President Bush's two terms. "The quantitative claims seemed worth checking,"wrote Stephen Koff, the PD's Washington bureau chief.

In checking out those lopsided figures, Koff wrote that Brown erred because Clinton's record was even better, and Bush's much worse:
"In doing so we found a surprise: Brown was wrong - but not in a way he's likely to mind. No fan of President George W. Bush , Brown grossly understated the poor job growth that occurred on Bush's watch.

"The comparison should have been this: Job growth through Clinton' s two terms was 22.7 million. Through Bush's two terms, it was 1.1 million."
Does anybody think that the Democratic senator won't be more than happy to revise his figures the next time the issue comes up?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Old South will rise again in Summit County

ONCE AGAIN Summit County Republican Chairman Alex Arshinkoff has plunged into the Deep South to recruit his celebrity speaker for the party's annual finance dinner. With customary political hyperbole, he's announced to his people that Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue (nee:George Ervin Perdue III), not yet a household name in Northern Ohio, will to be at the podium for the August 18 event at the Hilton Akron/Fairlawn. Perdue will follow last year's main attraction, . Gov. Haley Barbour, the good 'ol boy who was assuring potential tourists that Mississippi's beaches were fine while BP-piles were heading for shore.

Up north, you don't hear much about Sonny Perdue these days. Unlike Barbour, the Georgian isn't talking about a possible presidency, although what Republican politician doesn't think a little about such promotions as they set out to assure President Obama's defeat so persistently early in their game. The only thing I vaguely remember about Sonny is that he once led a group of pols and preachers onto the Statehouse steps during a terrible drought to pray earnestly for rain. Don't know how that turned out.

The dinner invitation ($250 per) tells us that Perdue has done a masterful job of creating jobs although the state's unemployment rate has been higher than the national average for 33 consecutive months and is currently 10 pct. The Dept. of Labor also reports that Georgia has lost more jobs from June 2009 to June 201o than any other state but California.

The remainder of the invitation is the standard Republican boiler-plate of how Republicans are working to "reclaim our state and nation from far-left, socialist, tax-and-spend Democrats who have brought us massive debts at home and historic weakness abroad." Well, it's that time of year, I suppose, and you have to allow for such hysterical shopworn diatribes.

But I do believe Perdue might score more points if he told his audience how the Atlanta Braves managed get into first place.

Meantime, just across the border in Tennessee, Rep. Zach Wamp, another Republican, is running for governor this year and showing his hackles by insisting that unless Washington (i.e., Obama) shapes up, the state might have to secede. You'd think that by now someone would have reminded Zach that it has already been tried.

UPDATE: Wamp, who told the National Journal on Friday that secession might be considered, has now recanted under a wave of criticism, saying he opposes secession. Way to go, Zach!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Daniel Schorr: A loss the media can ill-afford today

THE DEATH OF DANIEL SCHORR has left a terrible vacuum in the national media, where wisdom, depth and civil discourse now fall under the widely divergent realms of indifference or unrestrained hype.

The 93-year-old journalist, who finished his work at NPR with some of the most lucid commentary to be found anywhere from the ivory towers and antennae, was a breed apart from the pretentious hucksters who command the airwaves simply with circus acts presented with fictional news.

The way things are going with the media, the nation can ill-afford to lose Schorr's voice - one with which you could disagree at times without being outraged. For his efforts, he was proud to admit that he had been honored by his appearance on President Nixon's enemies list for his reporting of some of the CIA's bad habits. Richard Helms, the CIA director, angrily referred to Schorr as a "son of a bitch" and a "killer."

In the uproar over of his leak of a report by the (Rep. Otis) Pike Committee on illegal CIA activities, he resigned from CBS as the nework was preparing to fire him. And later fired by CNN. As his colleague Roger Mudd said at the time, "CBS found that, like other big corporations, it did not like to offend the Congress."

In the wonderful collection of his commentaries , Come to Think of It, Schorr's keen perception of the ills of government and politics are always persuasive. In describing the long delay in calling the winner in the 2000 Bush-Gore presidential race whose outcome landed in the U.S. Supreme Court, he concluded with a lashing of Justice Scalia:
"Not every justice would say, as he did on Saturday, that the issuance of the voting stay suggested that Bush had a substantial probability of success. Not every justice would own up to partisanship by saying the recounted votes threatened irreparable harm to petitioner Governor Bush and to the country. "
For the most part, the national media covered the travesty as though it was the final two minutes of the Super Bowl rather than one of a presidential election's darkest moments. And still do.

In today's world, we have a scam by ESPN to suspensefully entertain us with The Decision, Team LeBron's sequel to Alice in Wonderland, where the young heroine rises and shrinks before our very eyes. But even scams work in TVland, and ESPN walked away with a huge audience. ( ESPN was probably conditioned by the memorable line from the movie The Freshman that was uttered by benevolent mobster Carmine Sabatini. Replying to a skeptic about his work rules, he declared with bruised feelings:
"Scam?...Scam? This is an ugly word - this scam. This is business. If you want to be in business, this is what you do."
And how about the stupid firing of Shirley Sherrod from the Agriculture Department after her boss told her that she would be scorned as a racist (she's African-American) by madman Glenn Beck without checking the validity of the charge. The phony issue was raised by a reckless blogger who seems to enjoy his reign of corruption. To paraphrase the Tea Partyers: I want my country back - from Glenn Beck. Sorry, Mr. President. Isn't it time that you and your aides stand your ground and name names and dare them to outright fistfights? An apology will hardly cover this mess.

Daniel Schorr, who was honored with many coveted journalistic awards, knew a lot about his profession. He distinguished himself as a probing reporter by never tip-toeing from the scene of the crime. As Donald Ritchie, the Senate historian, said of him: "What passes for commentary today is almost all opinion. But Schorr was part of that breed of commentators who dug up information before they pontificated about it."

That's the vacuum that I was talking about.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Meet Bobby Jindal, the volcanic gun-slinger.

(Sixth in a series)

THAT'S BOBBY JINDAL over there on the far right. (Remember him?)
Jindal says it's OK to carry guns into churches. The Republican governor even signed a law creating the latest freedom of weaponry. You may recall that it is the same Bobby Jindal who damned a Federal grant to the U.S. Geological Survey to monitor volcanos, presumably because Mt. St. Helens is in the state of Washington , not Louisiana. As for gun-packing congregants, the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops says it is not OK in a "place of sanctuary." So the bishops have issued a ban on guns in Catholic churches. Unfortunately, their reach could not embrace a ban on Bobby Jindal, too.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

John Boehner: an exercise in no-nos.

A TRIAL RUN for my forthcoming interview with Rep. John Boehner:

Q. Congressman, as a member of the 16th Estate, there are a few questions I would like to ask you.

A. Don't you mean twenty-first estate, one step behind the socialists...?

Q. Sorry, congressman. The Gallup poll says we're 16th. At any rate, I believe you are an Ohioan.

A. No!

Q. But...

A, No! I am an American.

Q. Oh. An Ohioan-American.

A. No! You can't hyphenate real Americans, you moron.

Q.But you have mentioned Mexican-Americans as well as Liberal-Americans, African-
Americans and California-Americans at times. Right?

A. No! You have me mistaken with Sarah Palin, you idiot..
Q. OK. On another matter, you have indicated many times that America was fine until President Obama screwed it up. Would you care to elaborate?

A. No!

Q. If I may. On a personal note, sir, do you ever smile?

A. No! Besides, that's none of your business, you leftwing lunatic.

Q. Not even a teensy grin?

A. No!

Q. Would you explain that?

A. No, you dimbulb!

Q. Sir, your party continues to accuse the Obama Administration of messing up the economy..Do you remember George Bush and Bob Taft?

A. No!

Q. But Governor Taft was one of your Republican neighbors from southwestern Ohio. Are you saying that Bush and Taft were mysterious Republican-Americans who presided over the decline of the economy without ever telling you?

A. No! You just did, you imbecile.

Q. May I have a few minutes for you to explain your memory loss?

A. No! Not to a typical hyphenated Liberal-American fool as well as a hyphenated pain-in-the-ass.

Q. Do you mean....?

A. Un-American!

Q. A final question, sir. Your party has been criticized as the Party of No. Is that a fair statement?

A. No! A thousand times no! Now scram before I call the police.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Kasich Lehman TV ads: "I just worked there. "

THE PLAIN DEALER reports today that John Kasich, the Republican gubernatorial candidate, has opened his TV campaign in Columbus and Cincinnati with an attempt to set the record straight about his non-intrusive work experience with his past employer. As you might suspect, he's quite sensitive about criticism that he was a well-paid human satellite when Lehman Brothers tanked in 2009. He continues to insist that "Don't blame me, I just worked there" from his isolated Columbus office. But his 2008 tax returns strongly suggest his usefulness as a Lehman manager who did more than to turn out the lights at the end of the day. The firm paid him $182,692 salary plus a bonus of $432,200 that year. (In addition he was a Fox News commentator that paid him $265,000).

Since Kasich is not a professional athlete, his income from Wall Street in the year that his soaring company flamed out seems a little extravagant for a self-described bench warmer. Still, he goes on likening himself to a detached hypothetical Zanesville car dealer who is blamed for General Motors' woes.

Nearly a decade has passed since the hypothetical Kasich left congress. Considering the voters' shrunken memories these days, it would be a good guess that he is not well known by many folks outside of the right wing spin bin. So you can be assured that some of his assistance will be coming from his friends at Fox as well as his Tea Party allies.

The Plain Dealer quotes him as saying that he denies dodging the mainstream media, except when he is asked a dumb question. That category, I would guess, includes asking him when he will release his full 2009 tax return. Or an honest assessment of what went wrong at Lehman Brothers. Or why he was paid so much to do so little. Or how the state can survive a 40 pct. loss in revenue if his idea to end the income tax is ever enacted (a disaster waiting to happen?).

All dumb questions, I know. But where do you start?

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Stuart Garson: A new job overseeing an old problem.

STUART GARSON'S new political task in Cleveland is a calculated burden by an optimistic man. "I have a good sense of humor," the new Cuyahoga County Democratic chairman told me on the phone the other day while laying out his vision of returning the corruption-decimated party to its once-overpowering role in state and national politics.

Holy Garofoli! Here is a successful 61-year-old trial lawyer who has just succeeded Jimmy Dimora, the party boss who resigned under the ongoing suspicions that he is corrupt. And Garson has now agreed to the unthinkable: Bringing order to chaos.

Garson is well aware of the Democrats' (read: county's) plunge in recent years, not the least of which is a two-year federal investigation into alleged corruption by County Commissioner Dimora, Auditor Frank Russo and all sorts of bribers and bribees ranging through the political, business and intersecting familial universe along Lake Erie.

"Yes," he concedes, "we're battered." But he sees the problem as systemic: heavy baggage that has created an image of a Cleveland that is a malfunctioning incorrigible never more than moments away from vanishing in that lake. (In the past, when I've written things like this, somebody always stands up to yelp without saying why this is an inapt description. And that was long before LeBron left town.)

For one thing, Garson says, the exodus of young people from the city has taken its toll on the city's health - social, enconomic and political. In a few minutes, he is beginning to sound more like a sociologist than a politician. "We've got to turn around this loss of our young people and find ways to keep them here."

But he finds hope in the new charter government that will soon be in place - ridding the county of several major offices (fixtures! ) and assigning the governance to an executive and county council. Or as he puts it: "New management authority on steroids."

Well, a lot of people, namely the Democrats in this state, are hoping that somehow true change is on the way. To support his optimism, Garson will have to have to find the wit and muscle to prevent the boulder from rolling back down the hill.

(P.S. For those in the dark, Tony Garofoli was once a co- chairman of the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party.)

Friday, July 16, 2010

Sarah Palin's latest word: Backasswards

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(Fifth in a series)

Here's a photo of Sarah Palin. She is running for president while her public approval numbers have fallen to 29 pct. Sarah Palin is never at a loss for words about President Obama. She never sends him Christmas cards. She recently said his economic policies are "backasswards" - a non-word that is too long to write on her palm. The media are reporting that her daughter Bristol will finally marry what's-his-name who is the father of Bristol's child. The father's sister, Mercede, says she and her mother won't be invited to the wedding, that the Palins won't even tell her the date of the wedding. But that's another epic story while Sarah is fully engaged in running for president, which she would do even if Bristol remained a single mother.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

L.L. Bean's golden silence

I AM PLEASED to report that the folks at L.L. Bean are giving admirable consideration to the consumers who call the company for an item or two in its catalog. (No, I don't own any of the company's stock.) But when I called the other day to take advantage of a super-discount with no charge for shipping, the voice at the other end said he would transfer me to the next available agent. Until then, a voice said: "There will be silence while you wait."

How beautiful, those words! How wonderful that a mail order company would counter America's insistence on noise, with never a moment left to relieve the overexposed ear! No sales chatter. No awful music like the kind piped onto the sidewalk outside of a shopping mall. No kids screaming in restaurants to the indifference of their parents. Nothing!

Thank you, L.L. Bean. I hope we can do business again. I don't mind waiting.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Outrage: It's all the rage in America today

OUTRAGE HAS become a defining moment in the nation's psyche, not only from the Tea Partyers, but also from a lot of other people who cannot sit still on a hot summer evening and get a therapeutic laugh from Seinfeld. ( You might already see the extent of my TV diversions.). So where to begin to make my case?

Thanks to the fact that we have an African-American president, slavery is making it back in the hot discussion of America's values. The Rev. Jesse Jackson, full of rage, lashed Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert for morphing LeBron James into a "runaway slave" - which was kind of shocking inasmuch as runaway slaves never left town as a zillionaire with expectations of starring on a NBA championship team. Gilbert, of course, had lit the fuse with a clinically isolated example of searing outrage aimed at Mr. James - who lived through the experience without a single hint of anger about his new digs.

It reached a point in that exchange of outrage that some others took umbrage that Zydrunas Ilgouskas, the Cavaliers Eiffel Tower center (and equally immobile) did not produce the same outrage from the fans when he joined his itinerant teammate in Miami. Once again, the connective tissue was outrage, which never seems to tire sports fans.

And wouldn't you know that Rep. Michele Bachmann, the loony Republican from Minnesota, again expressed her outrage that President Obama was, in her words, channeling us into a "nation of slaves." Some Republicans are outraged daily by Michael Steele, the party's national chairman. The latest outburst was produced by Steele's accusation that Afghanistan was first conceived by Obama. My only conclusion is that the GOP hawks do not want to be denied the honor of calling it their war.

The NAACP slammed the Tea Partyers with a resolution charging them with racism - a charge that was heatedly denied by the TP upper classmen who have yet to explain why there are so many racist placards at some of their outings.

Glenn Beck, who markets outrage between commercials, is doubtless at sixes and sevens now that surveys have shown that he has lost half of his audience. Rep. Joe Barton, the Texas Republican, was outraged by the Administration's demand that BP set up a fund to pay off people stricken by the oil spill. He meekly apologized to BP, calling Obama's effort a $20 billion "shakedown."

It looks like NASA's prediction that 2010 will be the hottest on record will be realized - not all of it by global warming.

Monday, July 12, 2010

A creative way to express one's LeBron dissent

FOOTNOTE: AN imaginative young man passed through the crowd at the Italian Festival downtown Sunday with his LeBron James jersey altered. He had removed the letters J, A and S from the name, leaving only "ME" above the big No. 23.

Wobbly politicians deserve to lose

IS IT BEGINNING to seem like all of the nation's business is being put on hold until the November elections? Isn't that what the "nervous Democrats" are saying about immigration reform and other issues that divide the country? Yes, they are saying that. It once again places the stamp of approval on safe passage to Election Day by hiding offstage until the votes are counted. Meantime, the races will be gauged daily by elastic polls rather than the substance of the candidates' positions which, in the case of some, change every day. .

One could dream that the the pathway to winning would change to invite leadership on the nation's business. But the reports from the summer meeting of the National Governors' Association tell us otherwise.

There, some Democratic governors were quoted as lamenting that the Justice Department has sued Arizona for its soon to be enforced new immigrant law. It would be naive not to believe that the first order of business of any pol is to win with the least provocation of the voters. If there is an ounce of courage in this notion, I have haven't seen it in more than four decades of witnessing politics in the trenches. With the internet so pervasive and immediate, it's only gotten worse.

So be it. The only remaining truth in all of this is the enduring cliche that the people get the government that they deserve. And if wobbly Democrats still lose, tee-hee.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Will Fox - just once - ever get it straight?

FOX CONTINUES to thrive in a mythological universe, leading its millions of tuned-in lemmings to the darkest side of the moon. The latest example, reported by MediaMatters, deals with a young company - SEV. U.S.- in Kansas City that received stimulus money to build up to 100 electric trucks and other vehicles. President Obama cited its efforts in a recent visit to the plant.

But wait, says a Fox commentator - the company is a "total joke" that hasn't hired a single employe for the past year. But wait, Fox commentator Steve Doocy. the company has hired 50 workers and according to the Kansas City Business Journal , expects to increase that number to 100 by the end of the year while expanding its operations to other cities. (Its clients include Staples, Coca-C0la and Frito Lay.)

As such falsehoods continue to serve as the sustenance of Fox, I keep recalling a moment in Dostoevsky's somber murder tale, Crime and Punishment. The author writes of a character who talks about the lies emerging in the case. He says:
"What's the most offensive is not their lying - one can always forgive lying - lying is a delightful thing, for it leads to truth - what is offensive is that they lie and worship their own lying."
Despite Fox's empty pledge to play it straight, the news "analysts" there not only "report", they also decide with what manner of distortion they want to report it.

Jim Gray: LeBron's soft-bitten inquisitor

OVER AND OUT: The profound question of the week, against strong competition, arrived during the painful LeBron James interview by Jim Gray, the freelance reporter who asked prior to the DECISION: "You still a nail-biter?" Even though it was consistent with ESPN's amateur hour, I must still give Gray the Grumpy Abe Linguistic Lunacy (GALL) award.

Friday, July 9, 2010

LeBron's decision: A tawdry departure

WELL, THE KING has abdicated.

Within moments after LeBron James revealed The Decision, it was old news not only in Cleveland but also London, Paris, Rome and wherever else modern technology can take you in an instant. Unlike the stuffier exit of King Edward VIII to satisfy his yearning for Wallis Simpson in 1936, King James, a.k.a. The Chosen One, chose ESPN to disclose that he would leave the Cavaliers after seven championship-free years to form a cartel-like buddy system with the Miami Heat.

At a minimum, the staging was a shamefully tawdry example of our hype-worn society - so excessively repugnant that Baltimore Sun TV critic David Zurawik went on-line to accuse ESPN of "whored-out, dazed, confused and crass" behavior. As if the mere protagonist's imminent decision wasn't seductive enough for reeling in the viewers, the bit players - the panelists and hosts - could not resist reminding us that everyone in the world was "on pins and needles" - including our troops, I suppose, who put down their guns in Afghanistan. "Up next," a host declared, "LeBron James will tell the world where he will play next season." But first, a commercial break.

The production, with LeBron fresh out of swagger and seated rigidly on an elevated stage as if a classical artist was there to capture for posterity the throne's significance, lacked only a rousing Rossini overture to lead us into the moment of truth.

Did I say truth? Come now. Did you really buy into his explanation that he didn't arrive at his decision until he had talked to mommy that morning? Or that he hadn't closed the deal with his two superstar friends on the Heat - guys named Wade and Bosh - many weeks ago? All this from a pampered Midas -rich athlete who has literally been running the Cavaliers since his arrival as the owner and coaches acquiesced to his demands for the sort of comfort zone that he needed. It was to his benefit that a fawning, awe-struck media played along with his every move. (I should confess that I'm not a serious basketball fan and it wouldn't have mattered if he had declared that he would play on the Big Dipper next season.)

Well, as the entire front page of the Plain Dealer noted with a full figure LeBron with his back turned to the reader: Gone. *

That absence was obvious by his shabby performance in the playoffs against the Celtics. He was already gone. By the same token, Kobe Bryant was seen sweating and struggling for breath as he and his teammates fiercely nailed the championship in a brutal seven-game series. There was a hint of the difference between a guy with five championship rings and the former King, who has none.

Believe it, Cleveland, in your tearful nightmare. Maybe LeBron James wasn't the King that you thought he was. Not yet - and maybe never.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Where were you the night of ...?.

YEARS FROM NOW you probably will be asked a question about a singular event of our generation and I'm here to prepare you:
"Where were you on the fateful evening in which we learned of what came to be known as THE DECISION?"
It's important to know these things as milestone prompters that pave our lives with historic stepping stones.

For example, I remember that as a kid I was playing checkers with my Uncle Jim in the living room when word came through that Pearl Harbor had been attacked.

I also remember staying with an aunt in Altoona when V-J Day was announced.

I recall that my new brother-in-law arrived to say that Notre Dame had beaten Pennsylvania 27-20 (I think!) on my wedding Day.

And I was reluctantly driving to work and listening to the car radio at the moment that Bill Mazeroski hit one over the wall to defeat the hated Yankees in the World Series.

We can all recite special moments like these even though we don't remember last night's dinner. And years hence, the subject is likely to come up:
What were YOU doing when LeBron James announced his momentous decision? (Eh...ESPN. 9 P.M.)
Were you avoiding your civic responsibility by watching Antiques Roadshow or CSI?

Were you beating the heat by hanging around in the frozen foods section of the supermarket?

Were you randomly pushing buttons to unlock your computer?

"Yes," you will be prepared to say, "I remember it well. It was the night that I couldn't get the damn mouse to move on my computer screen for more than an hour."

Your friends may have even a better story.




Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Traficant no longer on the ballot - but...

NOW THAT THEY'VE barred Jim Traficant from the the 17th District congressional ballot, you'd think that his small band of anti-government knights would find a more productive line of work in the Youngstown-Warren area. After spending 7 years in prison for corruption, a felony even in these free-flowing-cash days, he chose to run as an independent but failed to assemble a minimum number of valid signatures. Did he ever! A third of the 3,138 submitted signatures were invalidated by the Trumbull County Board of Elections. Most of those that were erased came from people who didn't live in the district. Such law-abiding technicalities have long had a monstrous effect on candidates who don't count was well as they should.

Still Traficant's loyalists don't consider the board's action a slam-dunk - not at all. "It's not over!" Linda Kovachik, Traficant's campaign coordinator, advised the Youngstown Vindicator. She said the decision will be appealed ASAP. On the other hand, the law is on Traficant's side, allowing him to run in the 17h District while he lives in the 6th. I know. It can be confusing.

To no one's surprise the decision was met by outrage by the Traficant team, with all sorts of conspiracy theories entering the debate. One Democratic precinct committeeman blamed the party's county chairman, David Betras, of shenanigans. "He hates Traficant and he hates me," the Traficant man fumed. Others raised Nancy Pelosi's name. Some said Traficant was the victim of the Cafaro family "Political Machine". Finally, there was one fellow, in a reflective moment, who said he was "conflicted" by Traficant's action. "I don't know what to think of him any more," he lamented.

Traficant or no Traficant, we all have days like that. As for the object of all of this commotion, there has been no word on where JT' s hanging out in uncharacteristic silence these days.

Monday, July 5, 2010

As LeBron James goes, so goes LeBron James

WITH SPECULATION long-past exhaustion on the future home of LeBron James (Is there no end to the tension?), the only unexamined question now is how the young man will announce his decision. Will it be from the top of Cleveland's Terminal Tower? From a luxury yacht on Lake Erie? (Since Bush II, aircraft carriers are declasse for such urgent news.) Or maybe even a surprise cameo appearance on "Hot In Cleveland," the tepid TV series? Wherever it happens, will there be a fly-over?

George Will's world of fine men and women

(Fourth in a series )

That's George Will in the photo. He is a conservative columnist. He once defended Arizona's immigration law by writing that most Americans only know Hispanics as "fine men and women who trim their lawns and put plates in front of them in restaurants, not as illegal immigrants passing through their back yards at 3 a.m." He went out to Las Vegas to interview Republican nominee Sharron Angle, the Lady Gaga of the Far Right. He was impressed and prudent, offering carefully chosen words about her in his column in order not to offend the right-wingers who attempt to fathom his infinite wisdom. Have you noticed that he seldom smiles even though he lives in a comfortable world of fine men and women.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Get on the cell phone: Independence from whom?

And a happy Fourth of July holiday to you with a quick reminder that according to the latest poll fully one-fourth of Americans don''t know the name of the country from which America gained its independence.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

When Steele talks, is anybody listening?

(Third in a series)

That's Michael Steele in the photo. Michael Steele is the chairman of the Republican National Committee. He says such things as, Democrats should stop "demonizing" BP; or that President Obama should stop playing golf while oil is still spilling; or that Iraq is Obama's war. Some Republicans say he should resign after saying that. Steele also says he thinks highly of Sharron Angle, the radical Republican senate nominee in Nevada who has suggested that unless there are changes in the U.S. Senate, the Second Amendment ought to be considered. Steele says Angle will bring a "good, fresh look at the issues." He has said many other stupid things. But you get the point.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Boehner comes out aggressively against whining

(Second in a series)

That's a photo of Rep. John Boehner, an Ohio Republican and minority leader in the U.S. House. He says President Obama "whines" too much. He is a busy person and doesn't need to remind us that rather than whine, he suffered a total calamitous breakdown on TV when he trashed an imminent vote on health care. Boehner also told a conservative Pittsburgh newspaper that financial reform is like using a nuclear weapon on an "ant." He also says we are being too critical of BP. Boehner represents a rural district in southwest Ohio. There are no oceanic deep water oil wells in his district. Why does he keep saying silly things that remind us that he once was seen passing out tobacco lobbyists' money on the House floor as the reps were considering ending a tobacco subsidy? That's John Boehner, who doesn't like whining.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Ken Cuccinelli: some folks are more equal than others

That's Ken Cuccinelli in the photo. He is the attorney general of Virginia. He says strange things for a lawyer. He says, for example, that the Constitution doesn't protect gays. He says the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause doesn't apply. He says, "Frankly, the category of sexual orientation would never have been contemplated by the people who wrote and voted for and passed the 14th Amendment." It's also rumored that he understands the law. That's Ken Cuccinelli, a darling of the political right. He says a lot of strange things. I've tried to keep this message as simple as possible.